Monday, February 28, 2005

Riding the Bus Using Other People's Money

As expected, bus service in Allegheny County is being cut and fares are being raised. As of tomorrow, the Port Authority of Allegheny County announced, most routes are being reduced and several are being eliminated completely. This is happening even though Governor Ed Rendell thinks he can come through in his efforts to use taxpayer money to bail out the struggling Port Authority here in Allegheny as well as SEPTA in Philadelphia. Don't think that this is a Pennsylvania issue, either. That money will be coming from federal highway funds intended to repair and maintain Pennsylvania's infrastructure. My fellow Americans, these are your tax dollars at work, and they have just been given a new job.

I really do sympathize with those whose lives will be adversely affected by the transportation cuts, as I have been a bus rider for the last four years, and took four bus rides a day when I was in college just to be able to get to and from classes. I paid for my tickets and passes then, and I felt every increase. I remember when discounted U-tickets for college students were eliminated. I marveled at how ordinary bus rides were $1 adult fare; when I was a child, my mother paid 50 cents for herself and 25 cents for me. That was a 2X increase in just ten years. Now it is twenty years after that, and the fare is going to be double what it was in 1985. Inflation is bad, and I do not like having to pay more than I accustomed to for anything.

These days, I have nothing to complain about as far as the cuts go. I can take unlimited free bus rides all over the county just by showing my work ID like a bus pass. It is a perk and a benefit, and saves me hundred of dollars a year.

However, I do have an understanding of where the money comes from that most bus riders either approve of or have no clue about. Why does Rendell feel confident about using federal taxpayer money for his transit bailout? It's all politics, of course. He could wait and allow the Republican legislature to plan for transit funding in the state budget. That would still involve taxpayer money, but at least it would leave the other 49 states out of it. Voters are idiots, and Rendell knows this. Two years from now, Rendell is going to run for reelection and one of his accomplishments is going to be "I Saved Public Transportation From the Big Bad Republicans". This is crude and simple, and certainly irresponsible, yet it will probably be as effective as the federal government shutdown in 1995. Bill Clinton bore the bulk of the responsibility for that fiasco, but managed to blame it on the Republicans and he came out smelling like roses. Why? Because news coverage concentrated on the poor unfortunate government employees who were temporarily out of work. Which side do you think these people were on? The side of the legislators who passed the spending bills? No. They were too blindly loyal to their party's man in the White House.

Pennsylvania bus riders, as well as transit employees, I fear, are likely to have the same regard for Governor Rendell.

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